Kratos is one of my favourite video game protagonists. Itâ€™s rare to see a lead character with so much ruthlessness, so much rage, and such a broken moral compass to boot. By the third game, it's true, we realise heâ€™s actually just being a bit of dick. Yet through the God of War series, we formed a strong bond with him. Whether he was stabbing a mindless cyclops in the eye, pulling out the brains of sad minotaurs, or shaking his fists at the Gods from a distance, we felt his cause was a worthy one. Now that we all know how his story ends, we find out how it began - with Ascension.
The first God of War game burst onto the scene back in 2005 and impressed critics with its fluid combat, slick controls, and stunning art direction. Fans of the series wonâ€™t encounter any surprises here with Sony Santa Monicaâ€™s latest offering. While the game doesnâ€™t launch with the franchiseâ€™s expected sense of epicness, it doesnâ€™t take long for Ascension to start delivering the satisfying brutal hack and bloody slash that weâ€™ve all grown to love. Ascension is like a warm, action-packed burrito. One that tastes familiar to anyone whoâ€™s played a God of War game before.
While God of War 3 wrapped things up in a semi-climactic fashion, Ascension is a prequel, and brings to light Kratosâ€™ early days. Days before the Gods of Olympus and when everything was basically tits up and out of control. In the madness, a devilish menace known as the Furies emerge from under Zeusâ€™s control and start to wreak havoc upon the world.
Starting of course, with our unfortunate anti-hero Kratos, as the game opens up with him shackled and tormented by a Fury named Megaera. In typical God of War fashion, itâ€™s not long before Kratos is charging around ancient Greece ripping heads off beasties and giving the middle finger to Ares and the rest of the Gods of Olympus. But Ascension tells this gory origins story in a non-chronological manner, skipping between different periods of time with a refreshing and intriguing pace.
The polished controls of the series are still pleasingly intact and the combat, which is the majority of the game, is still the highlight. Although in a brave, backwards move by the developers, the only main weapon youâ€™ll get to use in Ascension are the iconic Blades of Chaos - as opposed to earlier GoW titles which featured other divine weaponry.
Despite this, the combat has still been well-conceived and the â€˜all-newâ€™ Blades of Chaos imbibe different powers as you progress. For example the Fire of Ares makes a crispy barbecue of your foes, while the Ice of Poseidon freezes them. Further down the line, youâ€™ll get to add on the Lightning of Zeus that produces a satisfying electric-shock to every attack and the Soul of Hades even gets the undead in on the action.
These upgrades are fun and varied but, more importantly, each weapon type affects your strategy throughout the game. Fans of the series will be familiar with the constant quest for green or blue orbs that replenish health and magic respectively. Now your choice of weaponry can play a part, with lightning attacks rewarding you with blue orbs as you vanquish foes, or the Soul of Hades releasing green health-giving orbs. While this concept is hardly ground-breaking, it adds a further layer of depth and keeps the pace in Ascension accessible and diverse.
While your blades will do most of the work, Ascension offers occasional secondary weapons to help expand the variety in combat too. Such as the javelin which has limited uses, but is useful for long-range attacks. Or a defensive shield which plays a vital part in the early stages of the game before you level up your arsenal to a point where blocking is superfluous - like a sombrero on a Gorgon.
Players can even use mystical objects in their quest, including an Amulet of Uroboros that can manipulate time around certain items, effectively aging or reverse-aging it. For example, you could use it to restore a destroyed structure blocking your path or to stall time and essentially freeze enemies for a short period. Another is the Oath Stone of Orkos that can generate a brief clone of Kratos to say, hold a lever in a mini-puzzle section of the game, or use as a decoy in battle. Speaking of mini-puzzles, can developers PLEASE move on from those damn â€˜letâ€™s move giant blocks aroundâ€™ puzzles?
But finally one of the best new combat features in Ascension is the automatic targeting which intelligently directs your blades toward enemies; including those damn boob-revealing flying harpies, avoiding the need to jump and clumsily swipe at enemies mid-air. Even the grappling has been improved and enemies can now be impaled and pulled forward from a distance, opening up devastating (and attractive) combos from afar.
Chucking your chained blades around like a lunatic gets the job done most of the time, but in typical GoW fashion there are times when the difficulty ramps up to almost nightmare status. Thankfully the checkpoint breaks are fairly generous, and there are even moments when the game feels like one of the easier GoW titles yet. But at around six hours in, just about every player will be tearing their pubes out in frustration, during the Trials of Archimedes stage. Obviously it is possible, but even the most talented gamers will struggle as death seems unavoidable at times. Challenging gameplay is welcome in GoW - who could forget the first gameâ€™s end boss battle? But here it feels more like a frustrating oversight from the developers when compared to the overall difficulty curve.
There are times when the screen is so full of enemies, you canâ€™t tell if youâ€™re playing a game or watching a Ray Harryhausen-inspired orgy of mythological beasts.
Ascension does an amazing job of packing in a lot for your eyeballs to digest, most of which is dripping with gore and violence. The art direction is nearly faultless and often your jaw will drop as you witness sprawling environments and captivating character design; or maybe a severed spinal column or impaled upper-torso.
The single-player campaign clocks in at just under 10 hours and while the pace isnâ€™t intense from start to finish, there are plenty of memorable moments to make Ascension a worthy addition. The final boss battle for instance gives a whole new definition to the term â€˜epicâ€™. However, more importantly, this game marks a whole new era for the classic franchise. Multiplayer.
Continue reading on page 2.